Skull & Crossbones Blues
Heritage of the Blues Series
Hightone (2003) 8153
12 tracks, 37 minutes.
by Craig Ruskey
Review date: July 2003
"Keeping the Blues Alive Award"|
Achievement for Blues on the Internet
Presented by The Blues Foundation
Johnny Shines may well be remembered more for his association with Robert
Johnson in the 1930s than for his own accomplishments as a gripping and powerful
bluesman. Equipped with a voice strong enough to crack plaster and a solid guitar style,
either playing bottleneck or standard, he left a good cross-section of recordings that began
in the 1950's and ended in 1991, the year before his death. Although the playing time on
Skull & Crossbones Blues is far too short by today's standards, the dozen
tracks exemplify the pure and natural intensity possessed by Shines. Seven tracks stem from a
1966 session in Chicago with Otis Spann's grinding piano and a rhyhtm section of Lee
Jackson and Fred Below accompanying Johnny's electric guitar, and while Big Walter
Horton is listed as playing on Johnny's Walkin' Blues, My Black Mare, You Don't Have To
Go, Rollin' And Tumblin' and Two Trains Runnin', his thick harmonica is audible
only on Trouble Is All I See and What Kind Of Little Girl Are You? From the West
Coast in January of 1969, Fat Mama finds Horton aboard along with Luther Allison,
and Give My Heart A Break comes from November of 1970 with Phillip Walker, as
with the title track. For Standing At The Crossroads and Drunken Man's Prayer,
Shines is alone with an exceptionally recorded acoustic guitar and his booming vocal style,
one that left an indelible mark in blues. His story is the all-too-familiar one of an artist who
never garnered the recognition he was due, largely passed over and unlucky during the
1950s when record labels sprang up all over Chicago, a man who made a living outside
music as a necessity, later returning to full-time musical endeavors only to suffer through
poor health. As unfortunate as all this may be, we can be thankful that Johnny
Shines left us brilliant examples of his music, and thankful again that Hightone has
joined in to reissue some of his fine work. www.hightone.com for more information on this
and many other great titles.
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